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Karzai urges military action in Pakistan

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KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday that air strikes carried out in Afghan villages by U.S. and NATO troops are only killing civilians and that the international community should instead go after terror centres in Pakistan. International forces serving under NATO and the separate U.S.-led coalition insist that the vast majority of those killed in air raids are militants. However, they also acknowledge that civilians are sometimes killed in bombing runs, though they accuse militants of firing on international troops from civilian homes they have commandeered.

Speaking under a tree on the grounds of the presidential palace, Karzai said the international community should take its fight across the border into Pakistan, where militants find safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal region. “The struggle against terrorism is not in the villages of Afghanistan,” Karzai said. “The only result of the use of airstrikes is the killing of civilians. This is not the way to wage the fight against terrorism.”

Afghan officials say U.S. or NATO air strikes killed dozens of civilians in two incidents last month, including 47 people who were killed while walking to a wedding in the eastern province of Nangarhar on July 6.

Karzai’s comments come the same day as Afghan officials announced that air strikes and clashes in Kapisa province, north of the capital, killed more than 10 people Saturday. A defence ministry spokesman, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, said those killed were militants.

However, provincial deputy governor, Rahimullah Safi, said 11 people were killed and all were civilians. The NATO spokesman, Mark Laity, said there was no record of airstrikes in the Kapisa clash but that helicopters fired cannons at militants. Laity said NATO was still investigating but that “at present we do not believe” civilians were killed.

Karzai’s criticism of U.S. and NATO airstrikes comes at a time when he appears to be making an increasing number of nationalistic appeals ahead of next year’s presidential election. Karzai has indicated he plans to run. However, Karzai’s call for military action in Pakistan echoes the views of top NATO military leaders, who say that militants train, recruit and rearm in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Senior U.S. military officials say it will be extremely difficult to defeat the resurgent Taliban as long as militant sanctuaries exist on Pakistan’s side of the border. U.S. and NATO troops have limited latitude to fight or pursue militants into Pakistan.

Karzai and his government have stepped up criticism in recent months of Pakistan’s military-run intelligence service accusing it of directly supporting militants and of being behind the deadly July bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Karzai said the Inter-Services Intelligence agency should “abandon the idea that the Afghan government will be under its control.”

“We do not want to be the slaves or puppets of other countries,” he said. Top Bush administration officials are pressing the president to direct U.S. troops in Afghanistan to be more aggressive in pursuing militants into Pakistan on foot as part of a proposed radical shift in regional counterterrorism strategy.

Senior intelligence and military aides want President Bush to give American soldiers greater flexibility to operate against Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters who cross the border from Pakistan to conduct attacks inside Afghanistan. But any such move would be controversial, in part because of Pakistani opposition to U.S. incursions into its territory, and the proposal is not universally supported in Washington. It comes amid growing political instability in Pakistan.-SANA

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